Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear. (The Letter of Paul to the Philippians, chapter 1, verses 12-14)
It does not take too much reading between the lines to conclude that the Philippians believed that Paul’s imprisonment had actually served to defeat the gospel. Perhaps they saw the message of freedom in Christ for all Gentiles and their adoption into the commonwealth of Israel as suddenly endangered. Or perhaps they believed that if Paul was in jail his absent leadership would mean the downhill march of all his churches. We might think this rather silly of them, but then we are not in their shoes. At this early stage of the church everything had to feel more tentative than it does today. We have the benefit of seeing how God has preserved His church through the most difficult of times.
Be that as it may, Paul needed to add knowledge to their love (see v.9 and Learning to Love) and assure them that his prison stay had in fact served to advance the gospel. The proof of it was that he had the opportunity to make the gospel known to the palace guard. These were the soldiers who guarded Paul while he was incarcerated. They were probably chained to him in a rented house, perhaps on 6 or 8 hour shifts. As Paul talked about the gospel they were a captive audience. Perhaps they had questions for him about how all this could be true. Maybe they made fun of Paul’s message initially. But because in Paul’s final goodbyes at the end of this letter he mentions that those of Caesar’s household greet the believers in Philippi, we have reason to hope that some of these guards might have put their trust in Christ as savior.
Such spectacular results for the gospel had so emboldened many in the community of believers where Paul was imprisoned that they began all the more confidently sharing their faith with those around them. We all know the fear we have of telling others about Jesus and either being made fun of or thought foolish, or maybe even fearing we might lose a job or a relationship. We need the encouragement of seeing others be bold for Christ. Or maybe we can be the one who is bold and encourage others.
But what is most important to understand here, and the strong point that Paul is trying to make to his readers, his friends, his disciples, is that there is nothing more important than the advance of the gospel. It is the thing for which Paul is willing to go to jail. It is what he and all whose love is informed with knowledge and depth of insight discern to be what is best (v.10). And it is, in fact, the one thing that God is not going to allow to fail, no matter the circumstances. This good news is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Romans 1:16). This is the force that has changed the world and is still going strong after nearly 2,000 years.
The gospel is God’s unstoppable force and the one priority around which all Christendom should rally. Is it your priority?